Robins Theatre Prepares to Reopen Next Year
WARREN, Ohio – Downtown Development Group is nearly finished tearing the Robins Theatre apart. Now, the Warren company is getting ready to put it back together.
Workers on a cold day in mid-February were deconstructing the main stage of the historic theater, underneath which new dressing rooms are being built. Gone are the approximately 1,500 seats, removed last year to be reupholstered but now in storage and waiting reinstallation later this year. Walls throughout the building await recovering and, in some cases, reconstruction.
In all, about 20 members of the building trades are working toward the reopening date, less than a year from now.
“It’s going to move quick because, you know, we’re due in Jan. 9, 2020,” says Ken Haidaris, president of Sunrise Inn and entertainment coordinator for the Robins Theatre.
In early 2018, Downtown Development Group and Haidaris’ Sunrise Entertainment announced plans to redevelop and reopen the theater, which first opened its doors in January 1923 and closed in 1974.
Once workmen remove the stage, “we’ll start putting everything back together,” Mark Marvin, owner of Downtown Development Group, says. “That’s really when things start to move relatively quickly.”
Overall, the project is “right on schedule,” he reports. Leaks in the roof of the building and underground pipes on both sides have been repaired. An electrician is running wiring, and after that the plumbing contractor will get to work on that aspect of the project, which will include expanded restrooms.
In addition, a plasterer with experience doing churches is engaged and Albert Herman Draperies Inc. in Cleveland is providing the main and side curtains as well as the tapestries for the walls. A small elevator is being installed for older talent and to transport clothing racks.
Marvin’s company and its subcontractors are using a variety of means to recapture the original appearance of the building, including photo references gathered before tearing everything down, lasers and access to original drawings for the theater.
“Basically, the entire theater is a mirror of itself, so the east side is the same as the west side,” Marvin says, which had degraded substantially because of leaks in the roof. “So we were able to basically take a picture of a mirror.”
Although the thrust of the effort is to restore the theater to much of its original appearance, there are some changes. The orchestra pit is being eliminated, which allows for the depth of the main stage to extend another 12 to 14 feet from its original 22-foot depth, permitting larger acts to be booked, Marvin says.
The developer also is adding a sound pit at the top of the mezzanine. Placement there, rather than at the front or rear of the theater, will allow technicians to optimize the sound for the audience during shows, although it will likely mean the elimination of about 35 seats.
In addition, restroom space is being expanded, and new dressing rooms are being built, with an adjacent kitchen and washer-dryer space specifically for talent.
While responsible for booking entertainment for the venue, Haidaris – whose Sunrise Entertainment is promoter of the River Rock at the Amp series – is also lending his expertise with the sound, lighting and rigging as is Tom Simpson, owner of the Kent Stage in Kent.
“What we’re doing is making the recommendations on what’s necessary for an entertainment complex, like how much weight can be hung from the rigging, size of the stage, where the sound booths are going to go,” Haidaris says.
“Kenny has been instrumental in helping us out with that and getting us steered in the right direction,” Marvin says. He wants to make sure that the talent coming in for a show is satisfied that the sound is optimized for the performance.
Other than the installation of a $6 sleeve on the walls of the mezzanine by its previous owner that caused $100,000 or more in damage, Marvin reports he’s encountered mostly what he calls pleasant surprises during the course of the project – for instance, the discovery of Coke bottles from an old local bottling plant and bottles from the former Warren Sanitary Dairy. Nothing has been detrimental to the schedule.
“Overall we are on schedule for our completion sometime probably late November or early December, to be ready for the Jan. 9, 2020, grand reopening,” he says. “We think it’s going to be something special when it opens up.”
The partners also are in the process of booking entertainment, with ticket sales potentially beginning during the River Rock at the Amp season.
“We’re going to do everything there,” Haidaris says. “Our goal is to get people downtown, get them walking in the downtown area.” That includes movies, concerts, comedy acts and plays by troupes such as Millennial Theater Co.
Simpson, from Kent Stage, attended an event in New York about a month ago, and reported that buzz was “off the scale” among agents and others regarding reopening Robins, according to Marvin. “Everybody is champing at the bit,” he says.
Haidaris is in charge of sales of seat sponsorships. About 600 have been sold, he reports.
The partners, as well as others in the downtown, acknowledge the project is sparking interest in the downtown.
“Everybody is excited about it. The whole downtown is excited about it,” says Chrisi Economos, co-owner of Saratoga Restaurant and Catering, which near the theater building on West Market Street.
Haidaris, who recalls viewing one of the last movies screened there, also says there is “a lot of excitement” because of the reopening. “It will be a big piece of the puzzle for the revitalization of downtown Warren,” he remarks.
“We’re getting regular calls from people who want to be downtown,” says Marvin, whose company owns and is redeveloping several downtown buildings. Interest isn’t just from the Robins Theatre project but from other activity taking place downtown, including the winery being developed at the former Warren Scope senior center, another Downtown Development Group project.
Recently an individual who wanted 4,000 square feet of space contacted him, Marvin says. He didn’t have anything suitable available and referred him to another property owner.
The theater project and other projects on East and West Market Street, including the winery, provide an opportunity to look at that entire corridor” and consider what can be done to spruce up other buildings,” says Michael Keys, Warren’s community development director
“A lot more people are coming into the downtown area, living in the downtown area,” Keys says. “It’s created a little bit of a buzz and more people want to come in.”
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.